Sept. 26, 2011
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By Mark Janssen
It was in high school that Gianna Misenhelter found her game, or at least her attitude toward her golf game, to be out in the rough.
Oh, she was successful winning 29 out of the 35 high school tournaments she entered while a member of Kansas City’s St. Thomas Aquinas golf team, but in her own words, she said, “I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t loving the game. At times I was sick of it. I found myself just playing to get a scholarship, which was stressful and definitely a silly way to look at it.”
Finally entering her senior season she took an attitude mulligan, and, “I started playing just for me and for the fun of the game. I found that love for the game again and hated being away from it.”
A third straight Kansas Class 5A state title brought the recruiters in with Misenhelter choosing K-State over several other conference rivals.
“I visited here, saw Colbert Hills, and understood that everything and everyone was in place to make me a better golfer,” said Misenhelter, who today and Tuesday will lead the Wildcats into play at the 12-team Marilynn Smith/Sunflower Invitational at the Colbert Hills Golf Course. “It was a perfect place.”
Misenhelter was K-State’s No. 2 player as a freshman last year with a 77.25 stroke average for 31 rounds, which included four Top 20 finishes.
Two weeks ago she opened her sophomore season in Tulsa, Okla., by tying teammate Hannah Roos for 25th place with rounds of 74, 77, 75.
Misenhelter says that “perhaps” her attitude adjustment on golf came prior to her senior season when she qualified for the Champions Tour Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach where she ended up being paired with fellow Kansan Tom Watson in the best-ball event. The twosome finished 11th out of 78 teams.
“That was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had,” said Misenhelter, who still wears her white “Pebble Beach” golf hat. “That was the time of my life; one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
As for being paired with the legendary Watson, who lives just 10 minutes from the Misenhelter home in Kansas City, the current Wildcat said, “It was an honor, but I really wasn’t nervous. There was no pressure because there was nothing that I was I going to lose. I had gained everything to get to this moment, so there was nothing I could lose.”
Misenhelter said the funniest moment of the tournament came when the pairings were announced and she was asked by the master of ceremonies whether she would be nervous playing with Watson, and she said, “Not really.”
That’s when the host of the program said, “If I was playing with Tom Watson I’d be more nervous than a puppy at Michael Vick’s place.”
Misenhelter went out and shot rounds of 78, 77 and 76 during three days she calls “… the time of my life.”
She’s since had a number of other golf moments to remember, which included a pair this past summer when she qualified for the Public Links Championships in Bandon, Ore., and the United States Amateur near Providence, R.I.
She made it into the match-play portion of the Public Links event where she lost in the first round, and then played a decent first 27 holes at the US Amateur, but after calling a one-stroke penalty on herself, she finished the event by playing “yucky” golf. “I couldn’t let it go mentally and shot myself out of the tournament. It was one of those learning experiences you hear about.”
Regardless of the placing, K-State coach Kristi Knight said that qualifying for those two prestigious events spoke volumes about Misenhelter’s game.
“Gianna (john-a) is a very driven young lady who has worked hard to get better and wants to be better,” said Knight. “She likes to put herself up against tough competition and test herself.”
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s been going on since she was a tot playing golf with her dad and uncle swinging their “humongous” golf clubs as a 3-year-old.
“My first tournament was when I was 6, and the first national tournament I qualified for at the age of 7 or 8 was in Jekyll Island, Ga.
“That sounds crazy right now,” Misenhelter said of such a trip at such an age.
As Misenhelter grew, so did her game. She was shooting 45s (for 9 holes) at the age of 8, and later set the Kansas City Swope Park course record with a 66.
Using all Titleist equipment, today she’s shooting consistently in the mid-70s with shorter than normal drives – “around 220 yards” – but making up for the lack of distance with a better than average short game – “I don’t have any choice.”
Of her personal goals, she says, “I absolutely have them, but I’m not telling, not even coach.”
But when asked directly about a career on the LPGA Tour, she replied, “That would be really cool. I love playing golf. I’m seeing myself improve and can see it as a reality.”
Marilynn Smith/Sunflower Invitational: K-State’s women’s golf team will play in its only home event of the year today and Tuesday at the Colbert Hills Golf Course.
“In the grand scheme of things it’s just another tournament, but it is the only time that we will play at home,” said Knight. “It’s not going to affect our ranking any more than another tournament, but the kids want to do well.”
K-State has not won the event since 2003.
All nine members of the K-State squad will be competing in the home match, with Hannah Roos, Gianna Misenhelter, Paige Osterloo, Whitney Pyle and Laura Hildebrandt making up the scoring lineup. The other four members of the squad – Ami Storey, Kristen Dorsey, Olivia Eliasson and Carly Raigans – will participate as individuals.
The tournament is free and open to the public with 36 holes set for today and a final 18 on Tuesday.
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